Strange bedfellows in a virtualisation world

Strange bedfellows in a virtualisation world

Server interoperability is blurring traditional boundaries between major IT players.

The trend towards minimising energy use by servers by the technique known as virtualisation has triggered new partnerships, some between long-term rivals. One company experiencing a culture shock is Microsoft which has been forced to cosy up to some industry peers in order to consolidate its position in the new stakes, which involves switching work load between servers.

The latest Microsoft alliance is with Sun Microsystems - an expansion of the rather tentative relationship they announced three and a half years ago. They agreed then to a level of interoperability between the Java and .NET environments and their respective directory services.

Under their latest agreement, Sun becomes a Windows Server 2003 OEM (original equipment maker). The companies say they want to be sure their partnership means their respective operating systems really do work efficiently within each other's virtualisation environments.

As Ovum analyst Dwight Davis says: "The fact that Sun and Microsoft are now promoting their current news as an expansion of their 'strategic alliance' shows just how much the world has changed in the intervening three and a half years."

Collaboration may be the order of the day in the virtualisation market, but many suppliers are not totally comfortable with the concessions they are being asked to make.

Davis says: "With their limited agreement in this area, both Sun and Microsoft seem to be keeping their options open with regard to future virtualisation moves."

Novell and Microsoft are also locked into an interoperability relationship that will last until 2012. Announced late last year, the alliance is aimed at seeing their products work better together, in particular making Linux and Windows interoperable.

Jeff Jaffe, executive vice-president and chief technology officer at Novell, said Novell's customers had been demanding for quite some time that the company make this happen.

"Customers continually ask us how they can consolidate servers with multiple operating systems through virtualisation," he says.

"By working together, Novell and Microsoft will enable customers to choose the operating system that best fits their application and business needs. They will be able to run virtualised Linux on Windows or virtualised Windows on Linux."

Then there's the Citrix-Microsoft relationship - already in place but now expanded. This has already made it possible for Microsoft applications to take advantage of Citrix Presentation Server. Now they are working on ways to simplify branch office computing using Citrix WANScaler.

The alliance is another sign of how much standardisation is needed to let the market move to virtualisation.

Wes Wasson, vice-president, worldwide marketing, Citrix Systems, says: "We envision a world where computing resources can be dynamically combined and reassembled on the fly."

There's nothing new about virtualisation for networking giant Cisco Systems which introduced its Catalyst 5000 VLAN technology more than a decade ago. The company says virtualisation is at the core of its vision for the next generation data centre.

No surprise then that it has entered an agreement with rising virtualisation software company VMware. In July Cisco firmed that relationship, taking an equity stake in VMware, majority owned by EMC.

VMware is your classic market disrupter and has the entire industry on its toes. Its recent virtualisation conference in San Francisco attracted 10,000 attendees and its chief executive and co-founder, Diane Greene, is now regarded as one of the most influential people in the IT industry.

Carl Eschenbach, executive vice-president of worldwide field operations, notes that with more than 1 million small businesses in the US running 14 million servers, the potential market for VMware's server products is $US6.5 billion ($7.7 billion). This may be wildly optimistic, but it seems certain a stack of potential suitors will be knocking on VMware's door as the virtualisation market continues to pick up speed.

Australian Financial Review

© Fairfax Business Media

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Tags serversvirtualisationinteroperability

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